The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, March 15, 2002


FY03 slashes deeper than expected

The attention the public pays to the budget process increased dramatically last week, as Carlisle school parents focused on the deliberations of the board of selectmen. These five have final authority over what articles will be placed on the Town Meeting Warrant and what Proposition 2-1/2 override questions will appear on the ballot at the town election on May 14. The board can refuse to put any override question to the voters, or can develop multiple override levels (sometimes referred to as "pyramid," "menu," or "tiered" overrides). They can accept the Carlisle Finance Committee's (FinCom) recommended levels, or craft their own.

While the selectmen have attended many FinCom budget hearings, a joint meeting March 6 meeting was their first opportunity to hear how town services would be impacted by the FinCom's proposed balanced budget plus a $373,650 override. Concerned that a higher amount would be rejected by voters, selectmen had asked FinCom to recommend an override below $400K and the committee had complied.

Assuming a $373K override

FinCom chair Tony Allison briefed a Corey auditorium audience, estimated at between 150 and 200 people, on the town's budget process and the FinCom's role, which he described as producing an operating budget that allows expenses equal to expected revenues. The FinCom recommends this budget to the town, but leaves decisions on specific program cuts up to the schools and town departments, he said. (For more detail on the process of planning the FY03 budget so far, see articles in the October 5, 2001 and March 1, 2002 issue of the Mosquito.)

For the March 6 meeting the FinCom assumed that a $373K Proposition 2-1/2 override would be approved by voters (see table 1 ) and limited discussion to this "override budget." It was understood that should this override fail, department allocations would have to be cut even further (as shown under the "balanced budget-no override" in table 1 ).

Closing school library, cutting kindergarten

Carlisle school committee chair Suzanne Whitney Smith outlined two tiers of reductions from the school's original request of a 10.77% increase over FY02. Cuts totalling about $160,000, were voted by the school committee the previous evening. The committee also "reluctantly and with serious reservations" noted an additional $220,000 in potential program reductions, including cutting back kindergarten hours and closing the school library (see table 2 ). If these reductions were officially adopted, Whitney Smith said, the total cut to the school's request would be about $379,000, bringing the total request to an increase of 5.4% over this year's operating budget. The school committee rejected the second tier of cuts at its meeting.

Adjusting the CCHS request

Concord-Carlisle regional school committee (RSC) chair Cindy Nock outlined what would be lost from the high school budget request at several funding levels. The previous evening the RSC had voted to drop $123,605 from its request, bringing the total budget increase to 6.9%, and had announced priorities for cuts depending on funding level. The first cut would be a new computer course at $30,500. Next to be cut would be about $125,000 for clerical positions, curriculum and staff training, equipment and a"virtual high school" program.

Finally, if the school is funded at the Carlisle balanced/no-override budget, additional cuts totaling about $290,000 would eliminate about a quarter of the "co-curricular" (extracurricular) and athletics programs, more clerical and aide positions, the senior project, MCAS tutoring, and computer hardware and software. At this level the high school budget would be increased 3.9% over this year, but Carlisle's assessment would rise by over 11% since this year the town is sending more students to the high school than last year.

The high school budget is based on "what it takes to operate the school" with the number of students attending, not on the financial conditions of the towns, Nock said. The school committee builds the budget, and the towns pay based on the percent of students from that town. Carlisle is sending 39 more students to the high school this year, which at the current cost per student would cost $500,000 more than last year, CCRSC member Harry Crowther added.

Not enough for fire and ambulance

Since members of the fire department are paid chiefly when they respond to fire calls, which have risen "tremendously" in the past three years, the guideline will be exceeded, fire chief Robert Koning told the selectmen. The budget also includes wage increases of about $16,000, the second step of an increase the selectmen had agreed to three years ago. Finally, there is not enough in the $373K-override budget to cover ambulance costs, he added.

The balanced-no override budget would require a further cut in services, reducing the police department by at least one full-time officer "and then some," police chief David Galvin told the audience. This would reduce patrol times and community services, and could include closing the station for the night shift, with state police responding to calls, as had been required after overrides failed in the early 90s.

Let us decide

During the balance of the meeting Carlisle school parentsargued that selectmen must provide multiple choices on overrides. Town officials responded with concerns about the recession, about the town's need to avoid tax increases driving out people without children in school, and about maintaining civility during a period of conflict over financial issues.

CPA reduction to 1%

At the close of the meeting, as the auditorium emptied, FinCom members and selectmen gathered on the stage. The four selectmen present voted to place an article on the Town Meeting Warrant and on the ballot at town election, to reduce the Community Preservation Act tax surcharge to 1%, which would lower the effective tax rate about 0.8%. Selectmen also agreed to accept the FinCom's recommendation to prepay a principal and interest payment on a bond for the ladder and dump trucks purchased this year.

Selectmen plan to finalize items on the Warrant and the ballot on March 19.

(see 3 Possible Overides)

2002 The Carlisle Mosquito